Jeff Schultz

This AJC sports blogger takes things seriously when he has to, but he really would rather not

Falcons have a problem, and surprisingly it's their quarterback


I went to a Falcons' game and spent most of my time writing Georgia columns, the last of which you can find by clicking here.

But I saw enough. I've seen it before.

Nobody should be surprised that the Falcons are having some problems. We knew there were recent draft mistakes and personnel deficiencies that can't be fixed in one offseason in a partly new regime. However, this was a combination few saw coming: The defense is much better and Matt Ryan is much worse.

The Falcons lost another game Sunday. They lost again because of Ryan, who in theory is their best player but lately hasn't been remotely close to that.

Yes, Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the Vikings' 20-10 win at the Georgia Dome. But if the Falcons didn't have three turnovers on the Minnesota side of the field, and if Ryan didn't throw two interceptions, including one in the end zone, they likely come away with points in all of those situations and the game plays out differently. Minnesota would've been forced to put more of its offense in the hands of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, and that's not something the Vikings want to do.

The Ryan situation began as only a slight concern early because the team was having so much success, starting 5-0 and 6-1. But it's now a major concern, not just among the fanbase but within the organization. Unless everybody is lying, Ryan is not injured and he is not confused by the team's new offense under Kyle Shanahan. This is merely the result of him making bad throws and bad decisions.

Photos: Falcons host Vikings at Georgia Dome

Ryan's two interceptions Sunday give him 12 for the season, including five in the last two games and eight in the last five. The Falcons (6-5) have lost four straight and fallen five games behind undefeated Carolina (11-0). They're only two games ahead of last place New Orleans (4-7) in the NFC South.

Back to Ryan. Late in the second quarter, with the Falcons trailing 7-4, they had the ball second-and-three at the Minnesota 43-yard line when Ryan tried to hit slot receiver Nick Williams at the 27. But he threw late and short, and veteran Captain Munnerlyn read Williams' route, the quarterback's eyes and made the interception.

Munnerlyn: "I knew if I was getting leverage on the outside, they run inside routes. If I’m inside, they run outside routes. I just kind of anticipated the routes since I had outside leverage and I read (Ryan’s) eyes and I read the play."

Munnerlyn said after studying tape of the Falcons during the week, "There's different tendencies that I read with this team.  I just felt like (Williams) was going inside and I jumped the route."

The Falcons drove on their opening possession of the second half to the Vikings' 1. A Tevin Coleman touchdown run was nullified by a clipping penalty. Later, on third and goal from the 14, Ryan tried to force a pass to tight end Jacob Tamme in the end zone. But in scrambling left to elude the pass rush and threw back across his body, which is never a good idea, got little zip on the ball and the pass was intercepted by Terence Newman.

Newman: "I tried to bait him (Ryan) a little bit. I knew I only had the tight end back there so I let him get a step on me, knowing I could come back. And when I saw Ryan go left, I knew he had to throw across his body. Then I undercut him. It worked out."

Falcons coach Dan Quinn and general manager Thomas Dimitroff publicly maintain confidence in Ryan. They have no choice. He's less than two years into a five-year, $103.75 million contract extension that runs through 2018. It's not like the team is in a position to cut him. But there is concern about Ryan making mistakes he should not be making in the eighth season of his career. They are mistakes that are losing games.

The Falcons' defense has significantly improved under Quinn and defensive coordinator Richard Smith. The defense is not losing games for this team, which wasn't the case in the past. But it's not like the Falcons are the 1985 Bears or the 2000 Baltimore Ravens -- they can't win games on their defense alone. It's still up to Ryan and the offense to win games, and that's not happening.

"It starts with me," Ryan said. "I've got to be better, in terms of decision-making and knowing when to just throw the ball away, cut our losses and kick a field goal. ... I know I can play better. I've done it before and I will do it again, but it's gotta start this week."

The problem: He has had similar comments after the previous three losses.

At this point, assume nothing.


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About the Author

Jeff Schultz is a general sports columnist and blogger who isn't afraid to share his opinion, which may not necessarily jibe with yours.